Zaha Hadid Architects Construct Floating Ship on Historical Port House in Antwerp
When the city of Antwerp needed a smart design to help them unite the city's 500 port authority employees under one roof, the brief was multi-faceted. Not only would the building need to accommodate future expansion—Antwerp is Europe's second largest port, handling 26% of the continent's container shipping—but had to integrate the heritage of the protected former fire station already on site. In 2009, Zaha Hadid Architects unveiled their competition winning design. The project is one of 36 begun before Zaha Hadid's passing in March and presents a magnificent solution in the voluminous structure that hovers above the fire station. By leaving the historical building's facades exposed, the new architecture creates contrast and pays homage to the Belgian city's past while harkening toward the future. The choice to build upward is not without historical precedent, as the original structure was intended to be a tower.
At 364 feet in length, almost twice that of the fire station, the New Port House expansion offers panoramic views of the Scheldt River, with the facade intended to reflect the changing colors and moods of the river. The glittering structure is composed of both opaque and transparent triangular facets that symbolically recall Antwerp's status as a leader in the diamond industry. The facets also allow for controlled natural light, assuring a bright atmosphere that is less reliant on artificial light sources. Waterless lavatory fittings and motion detectors minimize water consumption, while parking accommodates 190 bikes and 25 electric cars. The waterfront location also afforded the possibility to transport much of the building material via water. A combination of these elements helped garner the building a "Very Good" BREEAM environmental rating.
With a public reading room and library positioned in the enclosed courtyard of the fire station, the architecture considers both public and private sectors. In addition to new office space, the five-floor extension includes meeting rooms, an auditorium, restaurant, and an external bridge that connects to the old building. Whether it's received as a floating ship or a glittering cluster of diamonds, Zaha Hadid Architects have created a piece of architecture destined to reshape the waterfront.